Strewth, these guys are SMART!

The inaugural International Symposium for Next Generation Infrastructure was held between 1st and 4th October 2013, at the SMART Infrastructure Research Facility at the University of Wollongong, Australia, and one lucky Geospatial Engineering researcher from Newcastle was able to attend. David Alderson gave a 20 minute presentation entitled A National-Scale Infrastructure Database and Modelling Environment for the UK following a successful submission of a conference paper to the conference committee, under the same title. The work contained within the paper and the presentation represented an amalgamation of work conducted by David and other researchers from the Geospatial Engineering group at Newcastle and other research institutes and universities involved in the Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (UK ITRC) programme. The focus of the paper and presentation was to give readers and delegates alike a glimpse of some of the work undertaken in the process of constructing a database of infrastructure-related data relevant to the UK. This included not only an overview of some of the datasets that may be found within the database, but also a preview of some of the visualisation tools that are being developed on top of the data. An overview of these visualisation tools can be found within other posts in this blog site here.

A copy of the slides can also be found here and here. Unfortunately the presentation has had to be split into two parts, so please download from both links to get the full presentation.

Other representatives from the School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences at Newcastle University, UK could also be found delivering presentations at the event including:

Miss Sarah Dunn, PhD Student – Modelling infrastructure systems for resilience and sustainability (part one, part two)

Mr Shaun Brown, PhD Student – Resilience of resource movements to disruptive events

Mr Matthew Holmes, STREAM PhD Student – How do we ensure the assessment of infrastructure resilience is proportionate to the risk?

Further to this fantastic opportunity, a further round of meetings looking to develop collaborations between researchers at SMART, including former Newcastle-based PhD student and post-doctoral researcher Dr Tomas Holderness, and the Geospatial Engineering group at Newcastle, is being held at the SMART infrastructure facility between October 8th and 11th 2013. These meetings will look to focus on potential collaborative opportunities regarding network interdependencies between infrastructure networks, and also web-based data dashboards for visualisation and dissemination purposes.

Watch this space for more information…

FOSS4G13 Geohack.

From the 17th-18th of September I attended the Geohack event at FOSS4G conference in Nottingham.  The event was sponsored by the MetOffice in partnerships with many other of organizations within Environmental Science to Services Partnership. A number of challenges were presented for hackers to work on, these are listed here http://2013.foss4g.org/geohack/challenges/ . As part of the LTURF project I have found myself working with a number of APIs trying to extract any information for around Newcastle. This lead me to picking the outdoor event challenge as it was making use of several APIs  http://2013.foss4g.org/geohack/challenges/events/ .

FOSS4G - Challengers presenting - Met Of by aburt, on Flickr

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  aburt– The challenges being presented

 

This aim of this challenge was to estimate the effect that weather has on outdoor events in the UK.  The first task was to retrieve information about any outdoor events happening in a given location. This was achieved by using the skiddle.com, an events listing website, and their API.  Which allows you to search for events planned using a point and a buffer.  Once we had the events the next goal was to gain an estimate of the number of people attending each event.  This task was assigned to me, and for this I used both the Facebook and the twitter APIs. With Facebook returning the numbers of attending and maybe responses to the event, and twitter returning a popularity score.   The final step was to use Met Office DataPoint API to get the weather forecast of the event.  These were then all integrated into a very simple web portal. This is live here , we had little over 24 hours to complete this task so the portal is very much substance over style.

FOSS4G - Hacking teams working away - We by aburt, on Flickr

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  aburt – Us Hard at work

 

At 1pm on the second day everybody had to stop developing and then present they work for it to be judged. It was very interesting to see what the other groups had achieved , with some of the achievements being very impressive given the amount of development time. Phonegap, which is a free and open source framework that allows you to create mobile apps using standardized web APIs across many platforms, was used by a number of groups. And is clearly a very powerful tool with some groups having a completed app developed in just 24 hours. Unfortunately my group didn’t finish in the top 3 which I’m certain is only because the complexity of our app was hidden, in short we lost because it was too good.

The event was brilliantly run with plenty of food, drink and electricity to go round and I would like to thank the members of the Met office and the foss4g volunteers for organizing the event.  And Also Steven Citron-Pousty who setup the OpenShift server for our app.

What an Asteroid Belter!

As part of the British Science Festival 2013 being hosted at Newcastle University, researchers, staff, lecturers and students were invited to contribute to a comic being developed and designed by local comic enthusiasts. The comic was officially targeting children between the ages of 8-13, with a view to promoting STEM subjects and science in general. The proposed content of the comic had, you guessed it, a distinctly scientific theme to it, with organisers interested in hearing from those staff members who could fit their work (or at least make it look like their work fits) in to one of the following themes:

  • Robots
  • Explosions and danger
  • Dinosaurs
  • Space, time and travel
  • Very big and very small things
  • Things we eat, and things that eat us
  • Codes, ciphers and hidden messages
  • Heroes and villains
  • Matters of life and death

Some of the work related to networks, connectivity and infrastructure that is currently being conducted within the context of the Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (ITRC – www.itrc.org.uk) and also within the School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, seemed like something that kids could be interested in, and the idea of presenting this type of work within a comic context offered an alternative and novel mechanism for communicating our research. Once an expression of interest in contributing to the comic had been lodged, it was simply a case of meeting an artist and writer assigned by the organising committee, and beginning to think about what a comic to represent networks, connectivity and infrastructure should look like! In fact, largely due to the expertise and imagination of the artist I had been assigned (Terry Wiley), the ideas began to come together, and rather than stick to the traditional panel-based approach we decided on more of a spider diagram affair to communicate how different bits of infrastructure are connected together. However I still wish we had managed to get our idea of slightly transparent paper with networks hidden until the page was held up to the light, to fly to communicate the idea of hidden or non-obvious connections! Oh well, maybe next time. For all those interested, the comic, entitled “Asteroid Belter”,  in hard copy format was distributed at the British Science Festival 2013 (7th-12th September), but more information about it can be found here.

Everything's Connected
Everything's Connected

 

Students “flood” to measure the BlueLine

The hosting of the British Science Festival 2013 by Newcastle University gave staff and researchers of the School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences a chance to “show off”  some of their research to the general public, whilst also gave the opportunity to generate interest in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects via hands-on activities delivered to school children from the North East. One such activity, named “BlueLine”, organised and delivered by Dr Geoff Parkin (Senior Lecturer in Hydrology), Professor Hayley Fowler (Professor of Climate Change Impacts), Dr Vedrana Kutija (Lecturer in Computational Hydraulics), Dr Claire Walsh (Researcher in Water Resources), Mr Vassilis Glenis (Researcher in Water Resources), Mr Philip James (Senior Lecturer in GIS), and Mr David Alderson (Researcher in GeoInformatics), focussed on explaining the complex nature of flooding and extreme flooding to separate groups of secondary school children from local schools in the North East. The schools represented are listed below:

–          Shotton Hall Academy, Peterlee

–          Berwick Academy, Berwick

–          Ponteland High School, Ponteland

–          Thomas Hepburn School, Felling

The sessions began with Dr Parkin delivering a brief summary of some of the causes of flooding and extreme flooding, citing many references that relate to flood events experienced in recent years within the UK, including those that occurred in Cumbria in 2005, Tyne and Wear in 2008 and 2012, and many others. However that was just the standard “in-class” part of the activity, and although the seminar generated interest from the students in such topics as the water cycle, climate change, global warming, and the impacts of flooding, the “really” interesting part came when the children were let loose outside on the University campus, to take part in a crowd-sourcing exercise.

Crowd-sourcing in it’s most simple terms involves members of the public contributing data, information, comments, stories, pictures etc, which are then subsequently used within some form of analysis. Within the School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, there has been a concerted effort since the flooding in a local market town, Morpeth, in 2008, by water and geomatics researchers and lecturers alike to collect as much crowd-sourced based information about flooding and flood events that occur within the region. The contributions from the general public about the locations and timings of floods, alongside photography giving a reasonable indication of flood depths, levels and wrack lines, can be used to validate computer simulations of flood models, developed within the School. Some of the results of these crowd-sourcing endeavours can be found here.

So the purpose of crowd-sourcing in the context of flooding was explained to the students in attendance at the Blueline event, and how it can be used to help better understand how a flood propagates through different environments. Since the floods in 2008 and 2012, Philip James has developed an Android-compatible “app” that helps to facilitate this process, by allowing a user to use the location technologies within an Android device (tablet, smart phone etc) to locate themselves, and then subsequently use the camera to take a picture. The great thing about the app is that this data can then be sent to a server and published immediately onto a website, giving a near-real time record and subsequent archive of a flood event. As stated, this type of data is invaluable to understanding how a flood arises and then subsides. For more information about the app and the technologies employed to deliver this solution, have a look here.

So the school children were escorted outside where a “pretend” flood had been erected around Newcastle University campus (effectively just a line of blue tape indicating a flood level based on a particular amount of rainfall), and asked to use the app and a tape measure to record information about the depth of this “flood”. This seemed to go down a storm (sorry) as it offered them a chance to do all the things that children seemingly would rather be doing i.e. being outside and playing with technology! Each pairing were asked to try to record at least one reading at each point where we stopped around campus. Further to this a series of QR codes had been erected along the blue line that the students were able to scan, subsequently directing them to a site of historical photography of the flooding that occurred on campus in 2012, as well as some “constructed” imagery of the imaginary flood that they were measuring. For more information on this site and the photos, please follow this link.

BlueLine
BlueLine

BlueLine
BlueLine
The “BlueLine” around campus Imaginary flood on campus
   
Real time Flood Map Flood App Framework
 
Campus Flood Map

 

British Science Festival 2013
British Science Festival 2013

Seminar by Prof. Pascal Perez on urban simulation and planning

TransMob: A micro-simulation model for integrated transport and urban planning.

Prof Pascal Perez, SMART Infrastructure Facility, University of Wollongong, NSW

4-5pm, 24th May, Room 2.32: Cassie Building, Newcastle University

To book your place please register online

 

How will current socio-demographic evolution affect future transport patterns and traffic conditions?

How will urban development and transport policy influence the quality of life of various segments of the local community?

The ‘Shaping the Sydney of Tomorrow’ Project (StSoT) was commissioned by Transport for NSW (Australia) to better understand the interactions between transport and land-use dynamics as experienced by individuals and households over extensive periods of time (15-20 years). Stepping away from traditional optimisation, our model focuses on anticipating short and long-term emergent consequences and feedbacks resulting from interactions between people and their urban environment, through the creation of ‘what-if’ scenarios (risk assessment approach).  The innovative design and development of TransMob aims to challenge three traditional but highly limiting modelling assumptions:

•Long-term steady-state equilibrium of the system: in fact, transport services and urban development co-evolve along with socio-demographic changes in highly dynamic ways and out of equilibrium.
•Feed-forward effect of urban development on transport networks: in fact, evidence suggests that there is a strong feedback effect of transport solutions onto land-use changes.
•Homogeneous and utility-based social responses to transport and land-use planning: in fact, there is more to decisions on transport modes or residential locations than pure micro-economic reasoning; most unintended consequences stem from unexpected heterogeneous individual considerations.

TransMob is made of six modelling components: (1) synthetic population, (2) perceived liveability, (3) travel diaries, (4) traffic micro-simulator, (5) transport mode choice and (6) residential location choice. The model is applied to the inner south-east area of Sydney metropolitan area and simulates the evolution of around 110,000 individuals and 50,000 households over 20 years, according to various transport and land use scenarios.

Alpine Training

At the end of 2012 Dr Stuart Barr and Alistair Ford from the Geospatial Engineering group paid a visit to the University of Innsbruck for a week of discussions, demonstrations and workshops with the ‘Umwelttechnik‘, or the Unit of Environmental Engineering. The group of Professor Wolfgang Rauch specialises in urban water management through novel modelling approaches which link traditional hydraulic modelling with cutting-edge urban, infrastructure and agent-based models. Since the Geospatial Engineering group is interested in environmental sustainability and climate change, the entire journey from Newcastle to Innsbruck was undertaken by train!

Catching up on some reading...

During the week, the researchers from Innsbruck demonstrated their innovative models of water infrastructure development. These link physical simulations of water supply and sewerage systems with future projections of urban growth, allowing assessments of network performance under climate and socio-economic change. Also demonstrated was the ‘ACHILLES‘ approach (link in German) to network failure assessment, ranking each component according to the impact its failure may have on the whole network. The group are based in the Faculty of  Civil Engineering, based on the new technical campus of Innsbruck University. The view from their offices is quite impressive…

A meeting room with a view!

The work of the Newcastle Geospatial Engineering group was also presented to demonstrate alternative techniques for urban development modelling being developed here. Fruitful discussions followed, leading to possible collaboration and crossover activities. The opportunity was also taken to learn about new computing and processing techniques being developed in the Innsbruck group (using GPU processing for hydraulic simulations) and to discuss contrasting open source modelling frameworks being developed by both groups.

After five days of excellent discussions and collaboration, the Newcastle delegation took some time on the Saturday to see the other sights that Innsbruck had to offer before catching the sleeper train back home.

Dr Barr scales the peak (this time on the cable car instead of on foot!)

Unfortunately the snow wasn’t quite deep enough for any alpine sports, although I wouldn’t want to try this one anyway:

The view down the Bergisel ski jump, used in the 1976 Winter Olympics. Scary...

Thanks to Wolfgang and his group at Innsbruck for being such excellent hosts, and look out for news of future collaborations between the two groups.

The End

Ali

SOCET GXP Image Exploitation

Last week I attended a training course in Cambridge on Image Exploitation using SOCET GXP. The photogrammetric software, developed by BAE Systems, is the latest release and the successor of the SOCET SET software. As this is going to be the intended software I will be using for my 3D modelling of buildings, and with nobody in the Geospatial Engineering department having any experience with SOCET GXP (SOCET SET is currently installed on the computers), I was chosen as a representative from the University. The majority of the attendees had military backgrounds, two from the Swiss and two from the American military. There was a few from industry, including two from a 3D modelling company in London.

The four day course started with a basic introduction to the software and getting to know our way around the windows. SOCET GXP has made several alterations to SOCET SET, most significantly the interface. GXP has two main windows, the Workspace Manager and Multiports. The Workspace Manager is where all the data is managed, and the Multiport is where the data is displayed. Data is loaded from the Workspace Manager into Multiports. Previously, SOCET SET could only load two images at a time. Now with GXP, four images can be loaded, either as a singular view with the imagery in layers, similar to that of ArcGIS, or in a tiled panel. GXP has also adopted the ribbon menu approach, similar to that seen in Microsoft Word, which makes it much easier to find things compared to SET. After drawing and editing the image, various formats can be used as outputs, for example a screenshot can be exported straight into PowerPoint, shapefiles can be created in a geodatabase, and GeoPDFs can be produced.

After the first two days of familiarisation with the software, the final two days looked at the capability of data extraction, in both 2D and 3D using stereo. Tools in the toolbox are segmented into different types depending on their functionality; draw tools, mode tools (which describe how the draw tool operates) and modifier tools. Cue Cards help explain how to use the tool, making them very straightforward to use. One of the main tools in the software which may prove worthwhile in my project is the Automatic Feature Extraction tool, which can depict building outlines and trees based on a set of parameters. Having only used this tool on lidar data, it will be interesting to see what results it yields for aerial imagery. For 3D extraction, several models exist in GXP, such as planar roofs and gabled roofs. These can usually be utilised by defining a ground point and the rooftop points. Although this is an easy option for modelling, it cannot be incorporated into my work-flow due to its heavy reliant on manual interpretation of ground and roof points. The accuracy of the building is therefore dependent on the analyst.

As well as learning about the software a vast amount of ‘networking’ was undertaken over the four days.

The course has given me an insight into the new and existing capabilities of SOCET GXP and how it can potentially be utilised in my research project.

Andrew

From Newcastle to Darlington and back again…a tale of infrastructure failure.

Two members of the Geospatial Engineering team (David Alderson and Craig Robson) were due to present their current infrastructure/network-related research at the recent ITRC Early Career Researcher’s conference, held at Cambridge University on November 27th 2012. As such both embarked on a journey, departing from Newcastle at 0556 on the morning of the 27th, that would end having only reached as far South as Darlington…approximately 6 hours after departing! The cause of being only able to travel a few miles in that time…a flood-related failure of the rail network leading to a loss of power to the train and line between Durham and Darlington.  A set of images taken on the day of the failure illustrate the researcher’s plight.

https://twitter.com/dannysavage/status/273380288233631744/photo/1 – the train being towed (or not) by a DIESEL-powered engine

https://twitter.com/dannysavage/status/273383744277184512/photo/1 – the train being stuck…

http://ow.ly/i/1b2Ji – the water rises

The presentations that were due to be delivered are now available, along with a recording (cringe) of each presentation given by David and Craig.

Transport Planning Society: Applying GIS and Open Data in Transport

On a snow-covered evening, transport planners, policy makers and those generally interested in transport-related data, made their way to the School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences’ Cassie Building, for a Transport Planning Society organised event; Applying GIS and Open Data in Transport. The promise of tea, coffee, and the odd mince pie drew those in from the cold…only to discover that caterers had fallen foul of the snow and icey conditions, leaving the audience with little other sustenance than having to digest the two presentations delivered during the evening.

Initially we heard from CESER researcher Alistair Ford on the work he and colleagues in the School have been doing, looking at climate change mitigation and adaptation within an urban context. This work was conducted as part of the Geospatial Engineering team’s involvement in the Tyndall Cities programme, and the ARCADIA projects. The delivered presentation can be found here and here (click both links to retrieve all slides, the first link is just slides 1-20, and the second 20-37).

The audience then heard from Graham Grant from the Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority (TWITA). Graham discussed the possibility of some UTMC-compliant data streams being “opened” to developers, potentially allowing access to approximately 5 pre-approved data streams, with some real-time data included. There are approximately 20-25 datasets that could be made open to developers, and so Graham (contactable at Graham.Grant@newcastle.gov.uk) and colleagues will be looking for developers to prioritise that list, and help select data of most interest to them.

UPDATE: The list is now available: UTMC Data Sources – Provided by Graham Grant.

Thanks to Laura Hanson (CEG), and Nicola Hill (Senior Transport Planner, ARUP) for organising the event. Find out about more Transport Planning Society events here.

 

Identifying the hierarchical structure of networks – Presentation summary

On the 26th October, as part of the monthly Geospatial Engineering meeting, I presented an update on some of my research thus far, since beginning my PhD last September. The presentation focused on some of the more recent research I have been doing, associated with identifying a hierarchical structure in networks. Below is a summary of the work and a note on future presentations.

It is acknowledged in infrastructure literature that some infrastructures have a hierarchical structure, different from the traditional theoretic network structures. These include common models like the random model, scale-free and small-world structures.  The main difference between graph structures is the distribution of node degree, the proportion of nodes which are connected to a certain number of edges. A hierarchical structure (looks like a tree) would be expected to have some sort extra organization in it, leading to an underlying hierarchical structure, such as a tree. If it can be shown that this is true and hierarchical networks can be identified, it may be shown that the structure of these are significant and thus may allow for the improvement of the resilience of such networks.

The research utilised the networkx python library, a complex network package. This allowed for the creation of the common network structures mentioned earlier, as well as for the analysis of these through an extensive collection of analysis algorithms. To create a better representation of hierarchical networks, two in-house algorithms were developed to soften he transition between random networks and the balanced tree network, an explicit hierarchical network.

The first set of analysis was performed using common graph metrics such as degree (the number of edges connected to a node) and the average shortest path across a network. A suite of graphs were created for this analysis which covered a range of sizes and complexities for all graph types. This led to the identification of a pair of metrics, which in combination, allowed hierarchical networks to be separated from the other graph structures in the analysis. (The metrics which were identified are the assortativity coefficient and the  max betweenness centrality value).

The accuracy of this was confirmed through a series of statistical test, for all pair wise combinations, including chi-squared tests as well as transformed divergence tests to compare the distribution patterns of the metrics of all graph types. In the majority of cases it was shown that the distributions for the graph types did not match in many cases, and there was a significant difference between the rest and the hierarchical structures.

This shows that there is a significant difference between the structure types  and thus further investigation into the significance of this, as planned, is worth while completing as there could be future implications on the resilience and design of infrastructure networks. This work will involve resilience analysis of the range of network structures so the results can be compared and the significance quantified. In the longer term this work will be applied onto real-world networks.

A similar presentation with recently completed work will be presented at the ITRC Early Career Researchers Conference at the end of November.